Weekly Coronavirus Update: Tuesday, August 18, 2020
Hello, everyone! I’m back with a weekly update after taking a week off. Here’s a wrap-up of the latest research and news regarding COVID-19:
1) There is potentially good news for those who have already survived COVID-19, even if they were asymptomatic. A study published in the peer-reviewed journal Cell showed that “SARS-CoV-2-specific memory T cells will likely prove critical for long-term immune protection against COVID-19.” The study found that T-cells, which can remember and fight the virus even when antibodies have faded, were found in people with mild and asymptomatic cases of Coronavirus, as well as family members who did not contract the virus but were exposed to it. The researchers concluded, “Our collective dataset shows that SARS-CoV-2 elicits robust, broad and highly functional memory T cell responses, suggesting that natural exposure or infection may prevent recurrent episodes of severe COVID-19.” As always, we need more studies to replicate and confirm these findings, but this is definitely cause for some hope. The full study can be read here: https://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(20)31008-4?utm_medium=homepage
2) Here’s something that may surprise you — scientists are tracking the scale of the virus at population level as well as how the virus is evolving through…um…our poop. Scientists in several countries such as the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Spain France, Italy, and the UK (among others) are conducting research on feces from sewage. It’s a science called wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE), and this website tracks where the research is taking place as well as all research publications coming from this work: https://www.covid19wbec.org/. A peer-reviewed study published in Science of the Total Environment said of the benefits of this method, “Better population-wide data could aid in reducing the economic damage and social burden placed on populations dealing with stay-at-home ordinances, furlough, and involuntary unemployment.” You can read that study here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969720323925 and a longer news article about this type of research here: https://onezero.medium.com/cities-around-the-world-are-looking-for-clues-about-covid-19-in-human-poop-72bf695878bf
3) Let’s discuss long-term impacts, this time focusing on mental health. Research on 402 COVID-19 survivors in Milan, Italy showed that 55% were found to have at least one psychiatric disorder one month after recovering from the virus. Of those, 42% had anxiety, 31% experienced depression, and 28% had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Additionally, 40% said they experienced insomnia, and 20% reported symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Females were found to suffer more in the dimensions of anxiety and depression than males. The researchers concluded, “Considering the alarming impact of COVID-19 infection on mental health, we now suggest assessing psychopathology of COVID-19 survivors, to diagnose and treat emergent psychiatric conditions, monitoring their changes over time, with the aim of reducing the disease burden, which is expected to be very high in patients with psychiatric conditions.” You can read the full study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0889159120316068
4) Another recent peer-reviewed study focusing on long-term impacts studied COVID-19 survivors in the UK who were discharged from either the intensive care unit (ICU) or non-ICU hospital wards. The findings showed that 72% of ICU patients and 60.3% of ward patients experienced fatigue at least 4–8 weeks after being discharged from the hospital. More than half of the patients said that their fatigue was moderate to severe. Additionally, 65.6% of ICU and 42.6% of ward patients experienced breathlessness that they did not experience prior to having Coronavirus, and 46.9% of ICU and 23.5% of ward patients experienced psychological distress. The study was published in the Journal of Medical Virology and can be read in full here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/jmv.26368
5) Two new peer-reviewed studies published in the Lancet, one of the top medical journals in the world, looked at diabetes and COVID-19. The first study examined the effects of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes on hospital deaths in English patients. Studying nearly 24,000 hospital deaths, the researchers found that 31.4% of those deaths occurred in people with Type 2 diabetes, and 1.5% occurred in people with Type 1 diabetes. The researchers concluded that their results “show that type 1 and type 2 diabetes were both independently associated with a significant increased odds of in-hospital death with COVID-19.” That study can be read in full here: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/landia/article/PIIS2213-8587(20)30272-2/fulltext The second study examined risk factors for those with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, finding that “male sex, older age, renal impairment, non-white ethnicity, socioeconomic deprivation, and previous stroke and heart failure were associated with increased COVID-19-related mortality in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.” That study can be found here: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/landia/article/PIIS2213-8587(20)30271-0/fulltext
6) Researchers from the University of Southern California sought to determine whether there was a discernible pattern of Coronavirus symptoms, so they examined medical records of over 55,000 COVID-19 patients in China. They also studied nearly 2,500 records of patients with the flu from North America, Europe, and the Southern Hemisphere. The findings, published in peer-reviewed journal Frontiers Public Health, revealed that in both severe and non-severe cases of COVID-19, the most likely order of occurrence of symptoms was first fever, then cough, then nausea/vomiting, and finally diarrhea. They found the path to be mostly the same in flu patients, except that cough came first in flu patients, followed by fever. A CBS News article summarizing the study stated, “Not all patients experience the same set of symptoms. But the new findings help underscore how COVID-19 differs from other well-known illnesses. While fever and cough are also associated with a number of other diseases, like the flu, the study notes that it was the timing in which these symptoms appear, and the later gastrointestinal symptoms, that set this virus apart.” You can read the full-text of the study here: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpubh.2020.00473/full#h3 and the CBS News article here: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/covid-19-symptoms-order-study/
7) Finally, your US and world COVID-19 updates. The US has experienced an average of 50,543 new cases per day over the past week, which is 16% lower than the average two weeks ago. Deaths continue to average about 1,000 per day, and the US death toll is now over 170,000.
As colleges and universities have begun reopening, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, one of the largest universities in America, announced yesterday that after one week of in-person classes, it was moving to an all-virtual learning environment due to COVID-19 outbreaks on campus. The rate of positive tests among students rose from 2.8% to 13.6% at the campus health clinic, prompting the move to go fully online.
Elsewhere, the UK is beginning to see rising numbers, with six straight days of 1,000+ new daily infections as of Sunday.
Other parts of Europe are also seeing increases, as 19 European countries have reported over 20 new cases per 100,000 residents over the past two weeks, which experts consider a cause for alarm. The affected countries include Spain, France, Portugal, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Romania, Czech Republic, Austria, Croatia, Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Bulgaria, Luxembourg, and Iceland.
The UK is dangerously close to crossing that threshold, with 20.7 cases per 100,000 people. For the sake of comparison, and to put this into context, EVERY US state except for three (New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont) is over that 20 per 100,000 threshold over the past two weeks, 20 of which are at or above 100 new cases per 100,000.
New Zealand, which was recently virus-free, had 13 new cases on Sunday and 9 on Monday. The New Zealand Ministry of Health reports there are 90 active cases in the country, which has delayed its general election by a month to ensure a safe and accessible election for all amid the pandemic.
Sources for all of this information include:
US numbers: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html
UNC-Chapel Hill: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa/north-carolina-university-is-latest-u-s-school-to-roll-back-campus-reopening-idUSKCN25D28R
UK rising numbers: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-britain-cases/uk-daily-figures-show-1040-new-covid-19-cases-idUSKCN25C0HZ
New Zealand: https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/diseases-and-conditions/covid-19-novel-coronavirus/covid-19-current-situation/covid-19-current-cases and https://edition.cnn.com/2020/08/16/asia/new-zealand-ardern-election-delay-coronavirus/index.html
That’s all for this week! As always, so much more research needs to be conducted in order to confirm findings, and there is still so much we don’t know about this virus. Please stay safe, wear your mask, and socially distance as much as possible! And I’m not kidding, PLEASE close the toilet seat before flushing in a public restroom.